HELSTON: Hundreds of bears die every year for this stupid reason

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.

This goes out to anyone who’s left their garbage out and had a bear get into it; you might as well have put a bullet through its head.

It sounds harsh, I know, but hundreds of bears across B.C. are killed by conservation officers every year because they’ve grown habituated to garbage. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s on us.

Bears are opportunistic eaters, meaning they’ll go for an easy dinner, like the everything salad in your garbage can, over chasing down prey or braving a bees nest. They also have a heck of a sense of smell and can pick up scents from over a kilometre away—and you thought the pungent odour coming from your trash can was strong.

Bears are smart; they’ll remember how easy it was to procure a filling meal—important information when you consume up to 20,000 calories a day—and they’ll become regulars of the great Canadian garbage can. Now they are what biologists call ‘food-conditioned’ and for a bear, that’s pretty much a death sentence.

The Conservation Service doesn’t relocate food-conditioned bears and that’s not because they’re cruel or unkind; it’s because we’ve allowed those bears to become habituated to eating garbage and once they’ve tasted it, there’s no going back. So conservation officers are forced to do the dirty work created by our inability to keep a lid—literally—on our trash.

If I told you it was possible to save a bear’s life by making one small change to your daily routine, would you do it? Because all it takes is to invest in a bear-resistant garbage bin, or keep your refuse in the garage until garbage day. 

I know you’ve heard and read about this all before. It’s not groundbreaking information that garbage is the leading bear attractant (followed by compost, bird feeders, barbecues and unpicked fruit trees.) But as our region’s bears start coming out of hibernation this spring—feeling pretty hangry, because, after all, they haven’t eaten in months—I’m telling you, this is how we keep bears wild, alive, and out of conflict with humans: We stop stinking at storing garbage.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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